Post 12:08 Can I have a teensy bit more time please?

Overseas trips are one of the perks that sometimes come a journalist’s way.

I was offered one today. But it was only two weeks into the future. It is simply impossible for a self employed person to take a week out of their business on two weeks’ notice. It’s even harder to make the case to a parent!

So if you want to offer me a trip, can I have at least a month’s notice? That makes it possible I’ll attend. Two weeks makes it impossible.


Post 11:08 Your postcode may suck, but Australia Day means a lot

Australia Day. I never know what to think about it.

I don’t understand quite how it is appropriate to celebrate the day a colonial power ran up the flag to found one colony of several that later federated to become a nation. That nation, of course, failed to recognise the nations already here. And the day itself was the day of a ceremony, not the day the leader of the British expedition set foot on Australian soil.

So all up, not a great day in many ways.

I also find it hard to digest Australian nationalism. My most vivid memory of the Cronulla Riots was one of the white hoons who wrote “2030: We grew here, you flew here” on his chest.

The rhyme, I’ll leave alone. The postcode has long amazed me. How one can hold up the artificially created postal administration district one inhabits as any kind of cultural signifier is utterly beyond me. It’s become kind of a metaphor for me of the futility of nationalism, especially for shallow-rooted nations like Australia.

How can anyone declare “my recently agglomerated section of land and its dominant values is superior to your agglomeration of land and its cultural values” is beyond me. I just don’t get it.

Right about now, some folks will be thinking that if I think so little of Australia, why don’t I get the hell out.

But as it happens, I do think an awful lot of Australia. I was astounded by the strength in our society that allowed a peaceful handover of government. In case you missed it, government gets formed like this:

Governor General to leader of party with majority in the House of Representatives: “So you have a majority in the house of representatives?”

Leader of Said Party: “Yep. I’m pretty sure I do.”

Governor General: “Righto then. I give you the power to run the place.”

In a world where power is so often held or seized by force, or desired for personal enrichment at the expense of the populace, that conversation, the generally modest desire  for self-enrichment by those in power and the changes that flow from it are utterly remarkable. It is also, I think, far more deserving of reflection on our national day than the day settlers arrived got around to installing a flagpole. It says more about our culture than prattle about “mateship” or “a fair go” ever will.

And its far more important than your postcode!

Post 09:08 How to pitch to me more effectively

I had one of those hopeless pitches yesterday which was very, very hard to say Yes to.

PR: My client’s VP of Great Importance is coming. Do you want to interview them?

Me: Why should I? What could he talk about?

PR: He’s been with them for 16 years and he could discuss their roadmap since their recent big financial event or their take on  the latest big buzzword that everyone’s talking about.

Me: What IS on their roadmap? (Wondering if there has been any change since the big financial event)

PR: I do not know.

Me: And what will he say about the big buzzword? (Dreading the usual recitation of corporate-speak)

PR: I do not know.

Me: Please get me some information about what this bloke might actually say because right now I have no idea if he is worth the time or not!

Here’s how I think this could be done, far far better:

  • Give me the seed of a story idea, at least by suggesting me which of the outlets I work for your spokesperson is best suited to. Yes, this may sound like I am asking PRs to do some of the work for me, but on slim information like “this guy us coming and he is important” there is not much work I CAN do;
  • Think about readers and what they could get out of this interview. Does someone who buys technology really care about a company’s last quarterly result?
  • Prepare an angle or three, based on what this guy will actually say;
  • Do the above while being mindful that I have met so many visiting VPs, and most of them have said so little, that my start position is that all I will get is the corporate line.

Happy pitching!

Post 08:08 Another reason to despise the music industry

In this Wired interview with David Byrne, Radiohead’s Thom Yorke says something startling:

“EMI wasn’t giving us any money for digital sales. All the contracts signed in a certain era have none of that stuff.”

I’m pretty sure that what he is saying is that because Radiohead signed to EMI before any of this digital craziness started, their contract made no explicit mention of selling music online. EMI seems to have decided that meant it did not have to pay the band for online sales.

That’s pretty offensive as it is, but even worse when you consider the music industry’s stand agains, the Russian music website that existed in a similar loophole. Russia used to have an arrangement a bit like Australia’s Copyright Agency, which scoops up fees from folks like Universities to cover lost book sales caused by photocopying chapters for distribution. But Russia’s laws made no mention of digital downloads, so (allegedly) made payments into the Russian equivalent of the copyright fund even though there was no mechanism for their distribution.

The music industry kicked the living cr*p out of, arguing that artists would never see any of the cash. All the while, it seems, they were employing exactly the same argument to keep cash from flowing to their own artists.


Post 07:08 Celebrities are real, not just TV

My son is going to a sports camp this week, along with the children of a PlaySchool presenter/rather famous entertainer.

We were discussing his presence around the dinner table this evening when my daughter said she has heard of the entertainer in question and declared:

“They have one of him on Play School. He is real.”

Yes, dear. He is real. People on TV are real.

Funnily enough, a friend of mine used to be reporter on SBS news. His son apparently thought everyone’s parents were on TV all the time …

Post 06:08 A quick tip about podcasting

I do not claim to know much about podcasting. My efforts so far are pretty basic.

But already I find that PR types are making one fundamental error as we interact to set these things up. And that is assuming that it is a normal interview.

It is not, for two reasons:

  1. Any kind of conference call or speaker phone reduces sound quality to unacceptable levels. So sorry, PRs. Your spokesfolk have to go it alone.
  2. Podcasts need interviewees to prepare beyond making sure they know their key messages. Podcasts are a conversation. To be a good conversationalist, you need to prepare to entertain as well as inform.

Post 05:08 The more information the better

Here’s a tip: the more information the better.

Today I received a pitch from a PR asking if her client belonged in a feature.

I’d never heard of the client, so how was I supposed to know.

A couple of days ago I was invited to an event, the agenda for which had no detail about who would be speaking or what would be said.

In both cases I have asked for more information so I can make a decision.

So here’s the tip: if you are asking for my time, or want to me to consider your client, tell me what’s on offer. I can’t say yes to the question of “Are you interesting in something we think will interest you.”

Post 04:08 The unfair asynchronicity of the PR/media relationship

PR pitches are often a lot like telemarketing calls. They come from nowhere and make offers of dubious relevance.

That’s inevitably frustrating, just like telemarketing calls!

But it is also a PR’s job to make those calls (or send those emails) even though (just like telemarketers) their success rate is trivial. So it is hard to understand how to stop them because PRs have little incentive to change behaviour.

It is not my job to bat back unsolicited offers all day. There is little incentive for me to deal with this stuff. Perhaps a staff journo thinks it is more acceptable. But all I have to sell is my time so I prefer to use it well.

I do not think this is precious: it MUST, surely, be a PR’s job to deal with media requests inquiries.

I think this unfair asynchronicity can be fixed, through technology. As I have often remarked, I am stunned by the paucity of basic online PR tools like image libraries. And there are basically NO online PR tools like “pull” services so that I can tap into pitches on my own terms, on my own time, instead of being interrupted mid-feature. I hope that this kind of innovation comes along before too long.

I suspect that one objection to this kind of tool (which I readily admit is very sketchily described here) is that PRs value relationships with media and technology disintermediates and therefore reduces the proximity of the relationship, potentially degrading a PR’s influence on a journo. But for me, that argument has never washed. No matter how good my relationship with a PR, if their client deserves negative coverage, they get it.

I also feel it is time for innovation. In the decade or more I have interacted with PR (from both sides of the fence) technology has not really made a meaningful impact on the way PRs contact media. Email is a change, but not a radical change.

I do hope that the more creative PR thinkers out there are contemplating how to use technology to ease the unfair asynchronicity. But given that most PR companies are yet to master basic list management, I’m not holding my breath and expect the unfair asynchronicity to continue to be a source of frustration and tension.

Post 03:08 Computer games and why I want my kids to play a lot of them

For Christmas we bought the boy Super Mario Galaxy for the Wii.

It is the first modern computer game we’ve had for a while. Our last console was the PS1 and although we have had the Wii for a few months, we persevered with Wii sports.

Now I’m starting to appreciate just what astounding creations modern games have become.

You can get a look at the gameplay here. What impresses me is that the game asks an awful lot of the player.

One level I have completed consists of a cylinder hanging in space (there is a pic of it on the official site labeled ‘moves’). The cylinder has a transparent surface, which immediately presents a puzzle as the player tries to figure out how to get inside it! When you are running on the surface of the  cylinder, gravity pulls towards the center of the object. Once you enter the cylinder, gravity pulls towards its floor, but varies in certain zones with color coding and glyphs indicating the direction of its pull. That’s a lot to figure out and frankly if my kids can solve that kind of puzzle, master the spatial orientation challenges, decipher the glyphs and finish the level I imagine it can only be good for them.

That’s not to say they’ll get to do it all day. We’re not going to have the Wii raise the kids or substitute for other play.

But it sure seems to me that there is a role for games in their overall development that exceeds the entertainment and developmental niche I had previously imagined they would occupy.